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In the latest in our CEO Spotlight interview series, David Woolenberg, CEO at Duetto, caught up with David Taylor, CEO at Adriatic Luxury Hotels (ALH). David - a strong supporter of Duetto for many years - spoke about his revenue management journey, how he made the transition to ALH and sunny Dubrovnik, his leadership style, and what he’s learned over the last two tumultuous years.
Catch the highlights below or watch the video on demand here.
I’ve been in the industry for 32 years and during that time I've worked with some really big brands. I started with a UK domestic brand, then I went to Hilton, then to a domestic brand backed by private equity where I did two exits over eleven years, then I did some consulting work with IHG for a few years, and then moved into GLH, which is where I first became acquainted with Duetto as a product. And now I’ve been in Dubrovnik for two and a half years as CEO of ALH. It’s been an interesting journey and I wouldn’t change any of it. I’ve been very fortunate to meet some amazing people along the way and a lot of those have been in Duetto! I’ve always had such respect for the organization and how it delivered value in an area that the hotel industry had struggled in for many years.
At GLH I was responsible for revenue management, sales, marketing, branding - the whole thing! I wasn’t planning to move but I got a call out of the blue one day saying there was someone who had some hotels in Croatia who wanted to meet me and ask whether I would consider moving. It was a flat ‘No’. But it happened three times in three weeks and so eventually I got on a plane to meet them and find out more. I’d never been to Croatia before in my life, but I got on with the investors very well and I could see they needed someone to lead their organization and who brought some thinking that was different from what they had in the business. They liked what we were doing in London and GLH was owner-operated, as is ALH.
And so after more meetings and lots of thinking, I eventually decided to make the move to Dubrovnik. I believe that life presents opportunities to you and sometimes you either go with it or you don’t. I’d always wanted to work internationally and so I thought ‘why not?’ It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
Anyone who has ever met me will tell you I am a good listener. For the first four weeks of being here, I did a lot of listening. You have to ask a lot of questions, find out how things work, and dig into the details. I’m also a big believer in the strength of the team and that they deliver the results in the business. I am just the conductor of the orchestra!
I am also pretty consistent; I don’t change from one year to the next. I don’t lose my temper, I stay relaxed and I say what I see. I think they respect that here. I haven’t come in with the ‘Big I AM’ and that’s important in business. We are here to learn as much as we are here to perform and I am still learning new things every day which I think is fascinating, it’s the thing that makes me excited to wake up in the morning. The day you lose that is the day you should start to think about retiring.
I’m very passionate about the brand, the business, the people here, and what we’re trying to achieve. We’ve done brand, mission, and vision – we did that as a team and we spent a long time putting it together taking on board everyone’s views and opinions.
So, going back to the original question of what kind of leader I am, I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else, but I think I can help people achieve good performance and great results by making sure that the details are looked after properly, that we have a strategy and a plan, delivering it consistently, concentrating on the results and holding people accountable to those results.
They did everything here in Excel, very complex Excel tables. When I would talk about revenue management you would hear: ‘We make the decisions, we do it manually and a lot of it is gut instinct. A system can’t possibly cope with the challenges of seasonality’. But when you say, ‘have you worked with a system that can change the way it works with you to manage that’? The answer was ‘No’.
I didn’t tell people here to use Duetto, I just told them to go have a look to see what they find and look at alternatives that are more current with technology. They came back with five or six options. We talked it through, and I asked them to test them and see what worked for them. Pretty soon they came back and said they wanted to continue the discussion with Duetto. That was a breakthrough moment for the business.
After discussing it with shareholders and investors, they said to me: “This is great, this is a new practice and new direction and something we want to adopt in all elements of the business.”
Making that big leap away from managing Excel and charts and human instinct and the cynicism of believing that nothing could do the job better, and realizing that actually, you’ll never do as well as a machine, that’s when people finally realize why and how it works. It’s an ‘aha’ moment which then unlocks other things as well.
Revenue Management was the first step for us [in our technology journey], and it was a really important one. It had to go right because if it didn’t - if we didn’t get the right support or the product didn’t work well - the business would have been less willing to try other new things.
I believe that trust is at the forefront of everything. You have to have a strong partnership that you’re willing to invest in and want to make work. Even when you’re having tough days, you still have to have confidence in that relationship to deliver the right results.
My team needs to have trust in me and my confidence and they need a product they can rely on, that makes their life simple and does a lot of the heavy lifting for them.
Duetto is a huge time saver. It frees up the role of traditional revenue management to be much more considerate about revenue strategy, looking at the big picture, and seeing the direction you are hoping to go in. You can only achieve that if you have a product you have extreme confidence in, that is predictable, reliable, and gives you the results you need. If one of those elements breaks - and before Duetto, I worked with other partners when it did break - it takes a lot of effort to get back on the road. When I look at the teams I have worked with, in terms of how they work with Duetto and how they use it as a tool to inform the wider business and what it needs to do, I see that when that works it’s a great step forward in terms of the competency and capability of the business. You must have a partnership you can rely on and finding them in tech is not that easy. Many hotel companies have invested in hotel tech platforms that just have not worked, which makes them cynical.
Having the sort of relationship that we’ve got with Duetto is great for us in many ways because it sets the tone for some of the other relationships we want to create around the rest of the business.
I remember working with someone many years ago who told me when you are in a position of leadership, everyone looks up to you when there’s a problem. They all look to you for comfort, stability, inspiration, and level-headedness. At the beginning of this whole situation with COVID-19, I told myself, ‘Don’t panic, communicate often, and bring people with you’. We brought everyone in and I said: “This is going to be one of the most difficult experiences you will ever have in your career and you need to prepare for that. Some decisions will affect the livelihoods of people in this business and this town. Demonstrate to your teams you are in control even when you are not. Seek guidance, opinion, and support from those around you.”
Everyone took an immediate salary reduction of 40%. We were determined to make sure we kept every single employee in this business. We managed our costs appropriately and did what was needed and that was the proudest moment of the management team.
12 months later, everyone was thanking us for making that decision, even though it was tough. Sometimes you have to make the difficult decisions quickly, no matter how difficult the decision is, and you have to work with the people around you.
Watch the full interview here -https://www.duettocloud.com/spotlight-series-adriatic-luxury-hotels
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